Thursday, March 31, 2011

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Darkens The Skies

Salon: War Room
By Bill McKibben

Sixteen nameless corporations are using the Chamber to launch an assault against environmental regulation

In Beijing, they celebrate when they have a "blue sky day," when, that is, the haze clears long enough so that you can actually see the sun. Many days, you can't even make out the next block.

Washington, by contrast, looks pretty clean: white marble monuments, broad, tree-lined avenues, the beautiful, green spread of the Mall. But its inhabitants -- at least those who vote in Congress -- can't see any more clearly than the smoke-shrouded residents of Beijing.

Their view, however, is obscured by a different kind of smog. Call it money pollution. The torrents of cash now pouring unchecked into our political system cloud judgment and obscure science. Money pollution matters as much as or more than the other kind of dirt. That money is the single biggest reason that, as the planet swelters through the warmest years in the history of civilization, we have yet to take any real action as a nation on global warming.

And if you had to pick a single "power plant" whose stack was spewing out the most smoke? No question about it, that would be the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose headquarters are conveniently located directly across the street from the White House. On its webpage, the chamber brags that it's the biggest lobby in Washington, "consistently leading the pack in lobbying expenditures."

The group spent as much as $33 million trying to influence the midterm 2010 elections, and has announced that it will beat that in 2012. That, of course, is its right, especially now that the Supreme Court, in its Citizens United ruling, opened the floodgates for corporate speech (as in "money talks").

But the chamber does what it does with a twist. It claims to represent "three million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions." The organization, that is, seems to speak for a country full of barbers and florists, car dealers, restaurant owners, and insurance salesmen, not to mention the small entrepreneurs who make up local and state chambers of commerce across the country.

At least when it comes to energy and climate, though, that claim is, politely put, a fib. The Chamber of Commerce doesn't have to say where it gets its money, but last year a group called U.S. ChamberWatch used one of the last disclosure laws still in existence to uncover a single pertinent fact. They went to the headquarters of the chamber and asked to see its IRS 990 form. It showed that 55% of its funding came from just 16 companies, each of which gave more than a million dollars. It doesn't have to say which companies, but by their deeds shall you know them.

The chamber has long opposed environmental standards. In the 1980s, it fought a ban on the dumping of hazardous waste. In the 1990s, it fought smog and soot standards. On climate change, though, it's gone pretty near berserk.

In 2009, for instance, one of its officials even demanded a "twenty-first century Scopes monkey trial" for global warming: "It would be the science of climate change on trial," the chamber's senior vice-president for environment, technology, and regulatory affairs explained.

That didn't go over so well. Several high-profile companies quit the chamber. Apple Computer, the very exemplar of the universe of cutting-edge technology, explained: "We would prefer that the chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis."

Other businesses complained that they hadn't been consulted. Some, like Nike, quit the organization's board. "We just weren't clear in how decisions on climate and energy were being made," said a Nike spokesman.

One thing was for sure: they weren't being made by three million small businesses -- because many local chambers of commerce started quitting the chamber as well. From Florida and South Carolina to Missouri and Kansas, from Colorado and Pennsylvania to New Hampshire and Washington, dozens of local chambers have announced that the U.S. Chamber doesn't speak for them on these issues. In Largo, Florida, for instance, the head of the local chamber explained that the U.S. Chamber was composed, "for the most part, of political action committees and business lobbyists. They hold little resemblance to the local chambers of commerce that have been the cornerstone of their communities for generations."

Faced with that kind of incipient rebellion, the chamber backtracked just a little, issuing a statement saying that they didn't really want a global warming version of a monkey trial after all, and that climate change was an "important issue." (The same statement went on to call for transforming the United States into the "Saudi Arabia of clean coal.")

The happy talk in public, however, has done nothing to change the agenda the chamber pushes so powerfully in private. The same year as that statement, for instance, the organization petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to take no action on global warming on the grounds that "populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations."

Now, read that again. No suggestion here that 16 dinosaur companies adapt their business model to a reality that now includes melting ice caps, desertification and massive flooding, ever fiercer storms and acidifying oceans. Instead, they would prefer that every human being (and every other species) be so kind as to adapt their behavior and physiology to the needs of this tiny coterie of massive contributors. Forever.

What's become clear is that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization formed in 1912, more than a century after the first local chamber came into being, is anything but a benign umbrella for American small businesses. Quite the opposite: it's a hard-edged ideological shop. It was Glenn Beck, after all, who said of the chamber that "they are us," and urged his viewers to send them money. (Beck personally contributed $10,000 of the $32 million he earned in 2009.) The chamber's chief lobbyist even called in to offer his personal thanks. It shouldn't have come as a great surprise: Beck's Fox News parent, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, had given its own million-dollar donation to the chamber.

Thanks to the Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, there's no way to keep the chamber and others from running their shadowy election-time campaigns. As long as monster companies are pumping money into their coffers, it's "free speech" all the way and they'll simply keep on with their dodgy operations.

Still, the rest of us can stand up and be counted. We can tell the Congressional representatives taking their money that they don't speak for us. We can urge more big companies to act like Apple and Microsoft, which publicly denounced the chamber. (It's good to hear Levi Strauss, General Electric, and Best Buy making similar noises.) We need to hear from more dissenting chambers of commerce. It cheered me to find that the CEO of the Greater New York Chamber said, "They don't represent me," or to discover that just a few weeks ago the Seattle chamber cut its ties.

But it's even more important to hear from small businesspeople, the very contingent the U.S. Chamber of Commerce draws on for its credibility. Across America in the coming months, volunteers from the climate change organization I helped to found,, will be fanning out to canvass local businesses -- all those bakeries and beauty salons, colleges and chiropractors, pharmacies and fitness centers that belong to local chambers of commerce.

The volunteers will be asking for signatures on a statement announcing that "the U.S. Chamber doesn't speak for me," and offering businesspeople the chance to post videos expressing just how differently they do think when it comes to global warming, energy, and the environment. It's a chance to emphasize that American business should be about nimbleness, creativity, and adaptation -- that it's prepared to cope with changing circumstances, instead of using political cash to ensure that yesterday's technologies remain on artificial life support.

It's easy to guess how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will respond to this campaign. Last week, a series of leaks showed that their law firm had been carrying out extended negotiations with at least one "security firm" to collect intelligence on the chamber's adversaries, including the group that uncovered the tax data showing where their money came from. Once the leak was made public, the chamber's law firm cut off the negotiations, but not before they received "samples" of the kind of intelligence they presumably wanted -- pictures of their opponents' children, for instance, or the news that one foe attended a "Jewish church" near Washington.

Researchers say Kids’ brains may hold clues to future criminals

(CNN) Who is going to grow up to become a criminal or psychopath?

Current research in genetics and neuroscience may point towards answers to this question, opening up a whole host of ethical questions about culpability, justice and treatment.

“Is there truly freedom of will, as the law assumes? Freedom of will may not be as free as many of us may think,” said Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania.

Experiments by Raine have found that by looking at the brains of 3-year-old children, scientists could already see signs of potential trouble in the future. Raine discussed this research Monday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington.

Those who had poor amygdala function at that time were more likely to become criminal offenders later in life, in the 20-year time span during which the scientists followed them. The amygdala is an almond-shaped brain area associated with fear, and it appears that a trend among offenders is that fear conditioning is impaired. Researchers did not directly measure amygdala function in a brain scanner, but used the children’s fear responses to an anticipated punishment as a proxy for that.

In fact, adult psychopaths appear to have an 18% reduction of the volume of the amygdala compared with non-psychopaths. This difference might explain why psychopaths lack remorse, fear and guilt. (Interestingly, white-collar criminals actually show enhanced brain function in decision-making and other cognitive skills, according to Raine’s unpublished research).

He also noted that a brain region called the orbital frontal cortex tends to be associated with being antisocial when its volume is smaller; as a group, men have a smaller orbital frontal cortex than women, which may help explain why men as a whole tend to commit more crimes than women.

Raine is not saying that this is a perfect predictive tool; it’s not going to point to which individual child is going to commit a crime. Moreover, all of the data he reports is correlational, meaning he hasn’t proven that these brain abnormalities cause criminal behavior. But it doesn’t seem to make as much sense to think that living a criminal lifestyle would cause impaired fear conditioning, as it would the other way around, he said.

There is also evidence that what psychologists call “callous-unemotional traits” in childhood are risk factors for becoming a psychopath. Such traits include a lack of guilt about wrongdoings, absence of feelings or emotions, unhelpfulness to someone in need and unkindness to other children.

New research in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, also presented at the conference, looked at more than 9,500 children when they were ages 7, 9 and 12 from the United Kingdom’s Twin Early Development Study. Researchers led by Natalie Fontaine at Indiana University showed that children who had hyperactivity, peer problems and emotional problems at 12 years old tended to have had increased levels of such callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems earlier in childhood.

Because participants were twins, the researchers were also able to look at genetics, and found a strong heritability for boys with high levels of persistent callous-unemotional traits. For girls with these traits that did not change much over time, environmental factors seemed to be more important.

We can look at these associations, but biology and genetics are not destiny. There will never be a perfectly accurate predictor of who will grow up to be an offender, Raine said. And 80% of delinquent adolescents do not continue to offend in adulthood, said Dustin Pardini of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

But by better understanding how these behaviors developed, early interventions can be adjusted to specific needs, Fontaine said.

The question from all of this becomes: If psychopaths are the way they are because of brain abnormalities or genetic influences already apparent in childhood, and should they be punished as to the same degree as other criminals?

And if they should get special treatment, “Is that not a slippery slope toward Armageddon, where none of us are responsible for our actions, because all actions and behaviors come from our brain?” Raine said.

The extent to which biological factors should play a role in the justice system is an open and highly controversial question, as is the extent to which biological interventions should be developed to reduce crime, Raine said. Preliminary research has shown that omega-3 may reduce criminal offending in prison; this is just one line of future inquiry.

What do you think: If neurological and genetic factors out of a person’s control contribute to criminal offending, do we need to rethink how they are punished? If we punish people to deter others from committing crimes, does that make sense if psychopaths aren’t afraid of the consequences of their actions anyway? Share your thoughts in the comments.

2011: Labor’s Last Stand Against Corporate Control of America

News Junkie Post
By Liam Fox

Barack Obama, the candidate, may have promised “fundamental change” for America, but President Obama has worked very hard to protect and promote business as usual. Every small incremental ‘victory’ since the beginning of the Obama presidency has been granted only with huge concessions to corporations and the wealthiest percent or two of Americans.

Obama’s capitulation on health care reform, without even attempting to stand for single-payer or medicare for all leaving the insurance companies in the drivers seat, was the first obvious blow to the Obama fantasy. Premiums have increased and more Americans are without health insurance than before. Corporations and corporate funded conservative PACs have been allowed to dictate the narrative without the slightest rebuttal of any substance from the Obama administration or the Democrats. The ability to give more money to insurance companies in order to keep adult children insured, or to pay insurance companies for the privilege of not being dropped, is supposed to be a monumental victory worth celebrating.

Wall Street and the financial sector have been allowed to reap incredible profits after robbing American taxpayers, crashing the economy, and throwing people out of their homes. The only culprit that has yet to face any sort of justice for their actions is Bernie Madoff, who made the mistake of stealing from the rich rather than robbing the working-class like the rest of his peers. Angelo Mozilo, CEO and co-founder of Countrywide Financial Corps, was allowed to go free without any indictments, or criminal charges, for his role in crashing the housing market and throwing millions of Americans out of their homes and onto the street after he paid a $67.5 million out of court settlement… a minor fraction of his profits from exploiting America’s working class.

The very same individuals that wiped out the pensions of American workers and threw them out of their homes are now gleefully reporting record profits, grotesque bonuses, and throwing fund-raising dinners for their favorite politicians. As a result, every budget proposal, federal or state, is geared at concentrating more wealth to the upper 1% and placing a larger tax burden on the poor and middle class.

The fact that the health of the economy is gauged by how well the wealthiest one or two percent of Americans are doing simply adds insult to injury. Millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more still stand to lose their homes but the trading floor on Wall Street is looking better. The economy has been turned upside down. Rather than serve the needs of society we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that society serves the needs of the economy that benefits only a few. A deficit created by foreign wars, expansion of empire, speculative investments, and predatory capitalism is now supposed to be funded on the backs of the poor and the working class.

Obama was complicit in the Bush tax cut extensions and his new budget proposal provides even greater benefits to the wealthy at the expense of the working class. Ninety eight percent of the super rich will have their taxes lowered while two thirds of the country’s poor and lowest wage earners will have their taxes increased. Services will be cut for the American working class but the estates that have been accumulated by the wealthy will be protected from any tax burden.

This will allow the wealthiest Americans to maintain their moneyed class, in-perpetuity, and increase the divide between the very few haves and the mass of have-nots until the chasm is insurmountable.

The American budget is packed with protections and benefits for billionaires and austerity measures for everyone else. While the extremely small group of America’s mega-rich are able to celebrate their great and increasing fortunes, America’s workers are being pitted against each other to fight over crumbs.

Non-union workers are being led to believe that unionized workers are the evil ones soaking the American budget. Public service union benefits are nothing compared to the tax breaks reserved for the corporations and wealthy individuals that have profited from the pain of the American working class. Rather than fight against the unions that have brought us eight hour work days, paid sick leave, worker safety protections, and an end to child labor exploitation, we should be working with them to extend those benefits and more, to the entire American workforce.

The narrative seems to be that equality only counts when it relates to an equal devaluation of labor. Unionized workers are accused of being wrong if their labor is valued higher or if their benefits are greater instead of saying that employers are wrong for devaluing private sector labor in order to increase their profits. Why are private sector employees not seen as deserving more pay, or better working conditions, or collective bargaining power? Why have they allowed themselves to be convinced that the measure of their worth is in the bank accounts of their corporate masters rather than the quality of their own lives?

The situation in Wisconsin is a microcosm of what is going on across the entire nation, and the beginning of a battle that will have to be waged from coast to coast. Two weeks after passing a bill that provides $150 million in tax cuts to corporations and the states wealthiest, the state government has turned around and decided to recoup those costs from the wages and benefits of the working class. It’s that simple. Steal from the poor to give to the rich…. from Wall Street, to Washington, to Madison Wisconsin, this is what is happening.

If you add the campaign to break the unions to the blatant theft of America’s wealth you can see the greatest concession to America’s corporations and moneyed class of all. The destruction of organized labor. The ultimate disenfranchisement of the working class… not only with their employers, but politically as well. The government in Wisconsin not only proposes cutting wages and benefits to public employees but wants to end collective bargaining. This will be repeated, state by state, from coast to coast. Without organized labor the only forces lobbying politicians, and supporting political campaigns, will be corporate.

Last year’s United States Supreme Court ‘Citizens United’ decision (that allows corporations the rights of person-hood, and protected free speech to be exercised by unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns) combined with the current effort to end organized labor (the only source of political campaign funding of any substance on behalf of the working class) will set all American workers and wage earners back to where they were before the 1930’s and the advent of labor unions and collective bargaining. Corporations will completely own the political process and the American worker will be helpless.

Wisconsin is just the beginning. The battle is for the entire nation and whether America is of-by-and for the people, or, of-by-and for the corporations and the moneyed class.

Forty four (44) states have said they are in financial trouble and twenty one (21) of them have republicans in control of both houses and the governors office, like Wisconsin. While the Democrats end up giving the financial sector, the corporations, and the wealthiest Americans (who all fund their campaigns) mostly what they want in the end, Republicans, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, aggressively pursue policies that will maintain traditional wealth disparities and the disenfranchisement and devaluation of labor, much like the Antebellum South.

This is about to be a coast to coast battle for the future of this country. Will it be sold to the corporations to turn it into one large plantation or company town? Or will Americans join the rest of the world in fighting for their individual freedoms and personal sovereignty?

At first, I mocked the comparison between Egypt and Madison because of the lack of risk to the Madison crowd compared to the Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemeni, and now Libyans. But, fundamentally, there is a great deal of similarity. Both in Cairo and Madison people are fighting for the value of their labor, a share in their natural resources, the right to make a living and feed themselves and their families, and the right to have a say in their government and the decisions that effect their lives.

All are fighting against the same empire and the same form of exploitative capitalism. Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, et al, are fighting to end the exploitation of their labor and political disenfranchisement while Americans are fighting to hold on to the last protections they have from becoming third world citizens in a first world plantation. Americans are beginning to understand the appetite of the corporate empire’s cannibalistic greed. It’s not as easy to turn a blind eye when you become the banana republic or exploited work-force.

The old-world nobility, and the dictators that have been propped up in other counties, have been in America’s case, simply replaced by a plutocracy and oligarchy– the corporations and the wealthy. Same shit, different place, different day. The many work to service the few, and the rich are protected while the masses are left to fight over how to divide the crumbs.

People are realizing that the game is rigged and that their chance to correct it is fleeting. The rich are getting richer while everyone else is being asked to work harder, get paid less, and receive less for their tax contributions. Democrat or Republican in control, it makes very little difference. The entire system has been corrupted.

When will Americans realize that they are not exceptional in the eyes of the wealthy, the banks, and the corporations?

When will Americans realize that they have allowed themselves to become nothing more than a resource to be exploited for profit?

When will Americans realize that their government has been subverted and no longer serves their interest?

It’s painfully clear what has been happening. The American worker keeps getting hit while the rich get richer and the wealth of the nation becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. That wealth has then been used to corrupt the political system and further their agenda, increase their wealth even more, and disenfranchise the working class. They are holding the nations economy hostage and no one has the courage to rip it away from them and give it back to the people to whom it belongs; the workers, the citizens, the American people.

When will Americans realize that they have more in common with Egyptians, Tunisians, and Libyans than they do with Wall Street and Wall Mart?

Schemes, just like the one in Wisconsin, to crush America’s working class, are under way in Ohio, California, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and eventually most, if not all, other states, unless the momentum from Wisconsin is built on and America’s workers take a stand. Union leadership has been no less corrupted by corporate money and political power than any other part of the system. The workers themselves need to discover the solidarity required to protect what previous generations fought, bled, and died for.

Thousands of public workers have protested in Columbus, Ohio, against a similar law being pushed by Governor Kasich. In Indiana, an estimated 600 steelworkers demonstrated at the capitol building in Indianapolis to protest against proposed ‘right to work’ legislation that would further gut worker’s rights.

A movement is building but will it gain enough strength before it’s too late? Labor in America, and the American worker, are facing a battle for their future, and the future of their country. Is the American worker, and the American people, up to the challenge? Can the financial take-over of America, and the enslavement of the American working class, be stopped before it’s too late? Have Americans finally decided that enough is enough?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

American Police State

FBI Abuses Reveals Contempt for Political Rights, Civil Liberties
By Tom Burghardt

As mass revolt spreads across Egypt and the Middle East and citizens there demand jobs, civil liberties and an end to police state abuses from repressive, U.S.-backed torture regimes, the Obama administration and their congressional allies aim to expand one right here at home.

Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released an explosive new report documenting the lawless, constitutional-free zone under construction in America for nearly a decade.

That report, “Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008,” reveals that the domestic political intelligence apparat spearheaded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, continues to systematically violate the rights of American citizens and legal residents.

A rather ironic state of affairs considering the free passes handed out by U.S. securocrats to actual terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11, as both WikiLeaks and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds disclosed last week.

Although illegal practices and violations were reported by the FBI to the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) after an unexplained two-and-a-half-year delay, a further violation of lawful guidelines, lawbreaking continued unabated; in fact, it accelerated as the Bureau was given a green light to do so by successive U.S. administrations.

The IOB is a largely toothless body created in 1976 by the Ford administration in the wake of disclosures of widespread spying and infiltration of political groups by America’s secret state agencies during the sixties and seventies.

Reeling from revelations uncovered by Congress, investigative journalists and citizen activists in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Ford’s caretaker government was forced to call a halt to the more egregious practices employed by the FBI to keep the lid on and crafted guidelines governing intelligence and surveillance operations.

In fact, the Attorney General’s Guidelines regulating both FBI National Security Investigations and Foreign Intelligence Collection (NSIG) stipulate that “all government intelligence operations occur with sufficient oversight and within the bounds of the Constitution and other federal laws.”

While it can rightly be argued these protocols were largely ineffective, and had been breeched more often than not by the 1980s under President Reagan, as revealed during the Iran-Contra scandal, and that antiwar, environmental and solidarity groups continue to be spied upon and destabilized by agents provocateurs and right-wing corporate scum, they were thrown overboard entirely by the Bush regime in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Today the “looking forward, not backward” Obama administration has whole-heartedly embraced Bushist lawlessness while charting an even more sinister course of their own, now asserting they have the authority to assassinate American citizens the Executive Branch designate as “terrorists” anywhere on earth without benefit of due process or court review.

According to EFF, more than 2,500 documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that:

* From 2001 to 2008, the FBI reported to the IOB approximately 800 violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations, although this number likely significantly under-represents the number of violations that actually occurred.

* From 2001 to 2008, the FBI investigated, at minimum, 7000 potential violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.

* Based on the proportion of violations reported to the IOB and the FBI’s own statements regarding the number of NSL [National Security Letter] violations that occurred, the actual number of violations that may have occurred from 2001 to 2008 could approach 40,000 possible violations of law, Executive Order, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008, January 30, 2011)

But FBI lawbreaking didn’t stop there. Citing internal documents, EFF revealed that the Bureau also “engaged in a number of flagrant legal violations” that included, “submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts,” “using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas” and “accessing password protected documents without a warrant.”

In other words, in order to illegally spy on Americans and haul political dissidents before Star Chamber-style grand juries, the FBI routinely committed perjury and did so with absolute impunity.

Reviewing the more than 2,500 documents EFF analysts averred that they had “uncovered alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices” and that the “documents suggest the FBI’s intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed.”

According to EFF, the “documents show that the FBI most frequently committed three types of intelligence violations–violations of internal oversight guidelines for conducting investigations; violations stemming from the abuse of National Security Letters; and violations of the Fourth Amendment, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and other laws governing intelligence investigations.”

“Based on statements made by government officials and the proportion of violations occurring in the released reports,” EFF estimates that “the FBI may have committed as many as 40,000 intelligence investigation violations over the past ten years.”

The civil liberties’ watchdogs revealed that the type of violation occurring most frequently involved the Bureau’s abuse of National Security Letters (NSLs), onerous lettres de cachet, secretive administrative subpoenas with built-in gag orders used by the FBI to seize records from third-parties without any judicial review whatsoever.

Although National Security Letters have been employed by investigators since the 1970s, after 9/11 Congress passed the repressive USA PATRIOT Act which “greatly expanded the intelligence community’s authority to issue NSLs.”

“During the course of a terrorism or counterintelligence investigation,” EFF writes, “NSLs can be used to obtain just three types of records: (1) subscriber and ‘toll billing information’ from telephone companies and ‘electronic communications services;’ (2) financial records from banks and other financial institutions; and (3) consumer identifying information and the identity of financial institutions from credit bureaus.”

Abuses have been well-documented by the Justice Department’s own Office of the Inspector General. In their 2008 report, the OIG disclosed that the FBI issued some 200,000 requests and that almost 60% were for investigations of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

Given the symbiosis amongst American secret state agencies and grifting corporations, EFF discovered that “the frequency with which companies [received] NSLs–phone companies, internet providers, banks, or credit bureaus–contributed to the FBI’s NSL abuse.”

“In over half of all NSL violations reviewed by EFF, the private entity receiving the NSL either provided more information than requested or turned over information without receiving a valid legal justification from the FBI.”

In fact, “companies were all too willing to comply with the FBI’s requests, and–in many cases–the Bureau readily incorporated the over-produced information into its investigatory databases.”

This too is hardly surprising, given the enormous profits generated by the surveillance state for their corporate beneficiaries. As The Washington Post revealed in their investigative series, Top Secret America, more than 800,000 corporate employees have been issued top secret and above security clearances. Beholden to their employers and not the public who foots the bill and is the victim of their excesses, accountability is a fiction and oversight a contemptible fraud.

In a follow-up piece, Monitoring America, investigative journalists Dana Priest and William M. Arkin revealed that the FBI “is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously.”

In other words, in order to “keep us safe” unaccountable securocrats are constructing a Stasi-like political intelligence system that has overthrown the traditional legal concept of probable cause in favor of a regime rooted in fear and suspicion; one where innocent activities such as taking a photograph or attending an antiwar rally now serves as a pretext for opening a national security investigation.

According to Priest and Arkin, the Bureau database “is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain,” and used by employers to terminate political dissidents or other “undesirable” citizens merely on the basis of allegations emanating from who knows where.

As Antifascist Calling reported in October, “predictive behavior” security firms, generously funded by the CIA’s venture capitalist arm, In-Q-Tel, have increasingly turned to monitoring social media sites such as Blogger, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube and are exploiting powerful computer algorithms for their clients–your boss–thereby transforming private communications into “actionable intelligence” that just might get you fired.

In one case, EFF discovered that the FBI “requested email header information for two email addresses used by a U.S. person.” In response, researchers averred “the email service provider returned two CDs containing the full content of all emails in the accounts. The FBI eventually (and properly) sequestered the CDs, notified the email provider of the overproduction, and re-issued an NSL for the originally requested header information; but, in response to the second NSL, the email provider again provided the FBI with the full content of all emails in the accounts.”

To make matters worse, “third-parties not only willingly cooperated with FBI NSLs when the legal justification was unclear, however: they responded to NSLs without any legal justification at all.”

In conclusion, EFF wrote that “while the reports documenting the FBI’s abuse of the Constitution, FISA, and other intelligence laws are troubling, EFF’s analysis is necessarily incomplete: it is impossible to know the severity of the FBI’s legal violations until the Bureau stops concealing its most serious violations behind a wall of arbitrary secrecy.”

This sordid state of affairs is likely to continue given Congress’s utter lack of interest in protecting Americans’ constitutionally-protected right to privacy, free speech and assembly.

With new moves afoot in Congress to pass a data retention law that requires internet service providers to retain records of users’ online activity or, as in the repressive Egyptian U.S. client state, handing the Executive Branch a “kill-switch” that would disconnect the American people from the internet in the event of a “national emergency,” the U.S. oligarchy is planning for the future.

As the World Socialist Web Site points out, “The US government is well aware that the Internet provides a forum for rapid communication and organization, as demonstrated by the events in Egypt this week. In an attempt to block communication within Egypt and with the external world, US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak cut off the country’s access to the Internet altogether.”

“Similarly,” left-wing journalist Patrick Zimmerman writes, “the fundamental goal of the US government in its attempts to gain control of the Internet and monitor user activity has nothing to do with the ‘war on terror’ or prosecuting criminals. Under conditions of growing social inequality, government austerity, and expanding war abroad, the government anticipates the growth of social opposition in the United States.”

The Bush regime’s “preemptive war” doctrine has been fully incorporated into the Obama administration’s “homeland security” paradigm. The formidable police state apparatus that accompanies America’s imperial adventures abroad are now deployed at home where they have devastating effects on an already dysfunctional democracy sliding ever-closer towards an authoritarian abyss.

U.S. Sets up Special Prisons for Muslim/Arab Inmates

By Sherwood Ross

If you think the U.S. Bureau of Prisons(BOP) couldn't possibly make its prisons more inhumane no matter how hard it tried, you are wrong. It has created CMUs, or Communications Management Units, where the “management” part consists of denying inmates virtually all communication with their families and the outside world. In its Terre Haute, Ind., facility, the BOP is concentrating Arab/Muslim inmates and limiting them to mailing one six-page letter per week, making one 15-minute phone call per month, and receiving only one 60-minute visit per month.

Word of the restrictive new facilities came to light when Rafil Dhafir, an American doctor born in Iraq (and convicted of sending money to a charity he founded there and other non-violent crimes,) claimed he was imprisoned in Terre Haute as part of “a nationwide operation to put Muslims/Arabs in one place so that we can be closely monitored regarding our communications.” Subsequent inquiries showed that Dhafir had a case. While Muslims make up just six percent of the federal prison population, 18 of 33 prisoners at Terre Haute, or 55%, are Muslim, and 23 of 36, or 64%, at Marion, Ill., are Muslim.

BOP's actions have been challenged legally by the Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR) which, The Nation magazine reports in its March 28th issue, contends inmates are being shifted to these facilities “based on their religion and/or perceived political beliefs.” Author Alia Malek writes, “The extreme nature of the (BOP's) restrictions also raises the issue of cruel and unusual punishment,” forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. CCR also says the CMUs impede the free speech and association rights of family members. The BOP insists that these inmates must communicate in English, another punitive barrier, and it now denies them any physical contact with their families. Thus, prisoners cannot kiss their wives or children and can only talk with them in a crabbed room through a Plexiglass wall using a tapped telephone that records their conversations.

Prisoners in the two CMUs are not being punished because of any terrorist acts. “The vast majority of these folks are there due to entrapment or material support convictions,” says CCR attorney Rachel Meeropol, who has communicated with most of them. These are “terrorism-related convictions that do not involve any violence or injury.” One example, Malek writes, is Yassin Aref, who simply witnessed a loan in a plot “planned by an FBI informant.” Other examples include officers of the Holy Land Foundation(HLF), a U.S.-based Islamic charity that sent funds to programs administered by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Ghassan Elashi, co-founder of HLF, is behind bars for funding schools and social welfare programs in the Occupied Territories.

The Terre Haute CMU was opened during the Bush regime in 2006 and Marion followed it two years later. Both openings circumvented “the usual process federal agencies normally follow that subjects them to public scrutiny and transparency,” Malek noted. She quotes William Luneburg, former chair of the American bar Association's administrative law practice section as terming the BOP action “grossly irregular” and arguably illegal. “It is not a normal thing for agencies legally bound by the APA(Administrative Procedure Act) to propose some new program, to start through the public rule-making process and then basically not complete it, and then to decide to go ahead and do it on their own.” Adds David Shapiro, of the ACLU's Prison Project, “Essentially these CMUs are being operated in the absence of any rules or policies that authorize them.” Shapiro said the ACLU hoped “When Obama came into office...that the use of CMUs would be revisited...”(As Clarence Darrow once told a judge, “Your Honor has the right to hope.”)

One wonders if there is anyone inside the Bureau of Prisons who has a care for the impact of the CMU regulations on prisoners' families. Christy Visher, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, is quoted by The Nation as saying, “Contact visits where you can hold a child on your lap or touch your wife are very important.” What's more, she says, “The lack of connection to family make it harder to think of a plan for post-release, and if they have no hope for life after release, then they're less likely to be making behavior change.”

Nobody asked me, but behavior modification needs to begin with the Bureau of Prisons. It has apparently established a new kind of detention facility without observing the legal rules for so doing, concentrated prisoners inside based on their religion, and grossly reduced their right to communicate with their families and the outside world. As for the New Testament phrase attributed to Jesus Christ by Matthew (25:36), “I was in prison and ye came to me,” the BOP is going to make that as tough as possible to fulfill for the families of Muslim inmates.

(Sherwood Ross is a public relations consultant for worthy causes who also runs the Anti-War News Service, of Coral Gables, FL. To contribute to this work or contact him, email

Monday, March 28, 2011

Welcome to Debtors' Prison, 2011 Edition .

The Wall Street Journal

Some lawmakers, judges and regulators are trying to rein in the U.S. debt-collection industry's use of arrest warrants to recoup money owed by borrowers who are behind on credit-card payments, auto loans and other bills.

More than a third of all U.S. states allow borrowers who can't or won't pay to be jailed. Judges have signed off on more than 5,000 such warrants since the start of 2010 in nine counties with a total population of 13.6 million people, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal of filings in those counties. Nationwide figures aren't known because many courts don't keep track of warrants by alleged offense. In interviews, 20 judges across the nation said the number of borrowers threatened with arrest in their courtrooms has surged since the financial crisis began.

The backlash is a reaction to sloppy, incomplete or even false documentation that can result in borrowers having no idea before being locked up that they were sued to collect an outstanding debt. The debt-collection industry says such errors are extremely rare, adding that warrants usually are sought only after all other efforts to persuade borrowers to pay have failed.

Earlier this month, Washington state's House of Representatives passed by a 98-0 vote a bill that would require companies to provide proof a borrower has been notified about lawsuits against them before a judge could issue an arrest warrant. All 42 Republicans voted for the legislation, which is expected to pass the state's Senate and be signed into law by the governor. A trade group representing debt collectors supports the bill and says the changes are needed because some companies are abusing Washington's existing law by improperly arresting borrowers.

In Florida, training this week for dozens of new judges and sitting judges who are moving to courts with the power to lock up borrowers includes a session about potential abuses of debt-related warrants. "Before we take away a person's freedom, we want to ensure that there are procedural safeguards," said Peter Evans, a Palm Beach County, Fla., state-court judge who proposed the session.

Some judges elsewhere are issuing fewer debt-related arrest warrants because law-enforcement officials complained those cases gobble up resources needed to pursue violent offenders.

Illinois regulators are investigating the use of warrants by debt collectors and other financial firms doing business in that state. In September, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issued an order seeking to revoke the license of Easy Money Express Inc. The Paducah, Ky., payday lender won arrest warrants against at least four customers. One spent five days in a Carbondale, Ill., jail last March after failing to pay a $275 debt, court filings show. The lender "exploited the court system to obtain the arrest and incarceration of its customers," said Sue Hofer, a spokeswoman for the agency. The company declined to comment but is fighting the state's proposed ban.

At the national level, the Federal Trade Commission began scrutinizing in July the use of arrest warrants in debt-collection lawsuits. An FTC spokesman declined to comment on whether the inquiry has led to formal investigations by the agency, which oversees the debt-collection industry and enforces a U.S. law that restricts how borrowers can be pursued for debts.

Arrest warrants generally can be issued if a borrower defies a court order to repay a debt or doesn't show up in court. Retailers, credit-card issuers, landlords and debt collectors are the most frequent seekers of such orders, according to court filings and interviews with judges and lawyers.

Encore Capital Group Inc., the largest publicly traded debt-buying firm by revenue, last year began requiring law firms handling its cases to follow a "code of conduct" that includes this sentence: "Under no circumstances should a firm cause a consumer to be taken into custody involuntarily."

J. Brandon Black, Encore's president and chief executive, said the San Diego company decided to stop threatening borrowers with jail because the practice made Encore look bad. The company filed 425,000 lawsuits against borrowers last year, up 27% from 334,000 in 2009.

Last year, officials in McIntosh County, Okla., south of Tulsa, issued about 1,500 debt-related arrest warrants, up from about 800 a year before the crisis, according to a court clerk. More than 950 borrowers got similar warrants in Salt Lake City courts last year. Maricopa County, Ariz., officials issued 260 debt-related warrants in 2010.

Few orders result in jail time. For example, in Piatt County, Ill., just five borrowers were arrested last year out of the 13 hit with debt-related arrest warrants. The sheriff said he puts a higher priority on tracking down people accused of violent crimes.

"I wish I could do it more," said Piatt County Circuit Judge Chris Freese, who has heard hundreds of debt-collection cases. "It's often the only remedy to get people into court and paying their debts."

In one of those cases, Emmie Nichols, 26 years old, was arrested in June at her mother's house after lawyers for Capital One Financial Corp. won an arrest warrant against her for skipping a court hearing about $1,159.87 she owed on a credit card from the company. The $500 bond that freed Ms. Nichols from the county jail was turned over to Capital One as a partial payment of the debt, court filings show. A Capital One spokeswoman declined to comment on Ms. Nichols. Some judges are worried that the jump in debt-related arrest warrants is creating a modern-day version of debtors' prison. The practice ended in 1833 after decades of controversy, since borrowers owing as little as 60 cents could be held indefinitely in squalid jails until they paid off their debt.

Earlier this year, Vanderburgh County, Ind., Superior Court Judge Robert Pigman asked Indiana's highest court to review the legality of debt-related warrants after law-enforcement officials complained they can't quickly access arrest orders for dangerous criminals because their computer system is clogged with debt cases. The Indiana Supreme Court hasn't responded to the request.

In September 2009, Jeffrey Stearns, a concrete-company owner, answered a knock at the door from a Hancock County, Ind., deputy sheriff. The deputy was holding a warrant to arrest Mr. Stearns for not paying $4,024.88 owed to a unit of American International Group Inc. on a loan for his pickup truck.

After being handcuffed in front of his four children, Mr. Stearns, 29 years old, spent two nights in jail, where he said he was strip-searched and sprayed for lice. Court records show he was released after agreeing to pay $1,500 to the loan company. "I didn't even know I was being sued," he said, though he doesn't dispute owing the money. "It's the scariest thing that ever happened to me."

Mr. Stearns said he never got the summons or two orders to show up before a judge that a deputy sheriff said in court filings were delivered to him. Hancock County Sheriff Mark Shepherd couldn't be reached for comment. Mark Herr, an AIG spokesman, declined to comment on Mr. Stearns but said the lending unit was sold in November.

Defunding Public Media: Disaster Or Opportunity?

SPaul note: Public programming is under attack for one reason and one reason only: It offers We the People real news to combat corporate controlled information. This attack represents one more step toward the fascist takeover of our Nation.

by Jim Zarroli

Over the years, conservatives have often tried to eliminate money for public broadcasting — without succeeding.

In 1995, for instance, congressional Republicans tried to zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within a few years, its budget was bigger than ever.

This year Congress gave $430 million to CPB, most of which was funneled to public TV and radio stations. And Republicans are once again calling for funding to be eliminated.

Pat Butler of the Public Media Association, which lobbies for PBS and public radio, says the odds against public broadcasting are greater this time.

"There is a $1.6 trillion federal budget deficit that there wasn't in 1995. There is a much larger and more diverse media universe than there was in 1995," he says.

Lights Out?
With the proliferation of new media outlets in television and online it's tougher for public broadcasting to argue that it's indispensable. In this climate, the defunding effort is gaining steam, and Butler says people need to understand what's at stake if CPB money is gone.

"The first thing that would happen is that hundreds of local public television and radio stations would go dark almost immediately," he says. "Many of the 21,000 jobs that are represented in public broadcasting would just disappear."
I would hate to say it, but it would probably spell the end for my station and for many, many small stations across the country.
- Daphne Dowdy Jackson, KPBT station manager

The stations most at risk are small rural outlets like KPBT in Midland-Odessa, Texas.

"We're in far West Texas," says Daphne Dowdy Jackson, the station's general manager. "We vote primarily Republican. Fact: Laura Bush was a founding member of our public television station back in the mid-1980s."

With just seven employees and no studio of its own, KPBT still produces local programs, including a high school quiz show.

KPBT gets more than half its budget from CPB. Jackson says that without federal money, there simply aren't enough local donors to keep the station going.

"I would hate to say it," she says, "but it would probably spell the end for my station and for many, many small stations across the country."

The Public Media Association's Butler says even stations that survive would suffer without federal money.

Emmy-winning TV producer David Grubin says CPB funds act as seed money to make documentaries.
"It gives me the credibility when I go out to a foundation or a corporation to say that I can get some money from PBS, even though it may not be a lot," he says.

If smaller stations die off, Butler says, the impact would ripple through the system. PBS and public radio networks make money selling programs to local stations.

"Even very large stations, successful programming stations, depend for a great amount of their overall budgets on the smaller stations," she says, "and if the smaller stations can't pay their programming fees, then even the larger stations are going to have to retrench considerably."

Opportunities And Independence
Critics scoff at the notion that public broadcasting would collapse without federal support. They say PBS and public radio have a loyal, affluent audience that will come to their rescue if funding is cut. Others point out that the media landscape has changed. The Internet gives audiences multiple ways to access national programs like Morning Edition.

U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, a Florida Republican, said on the House floor earlier this month that losing federal funds would force stations to reinvent themselves by becoming more community-oriented.
I don't think that's good for freedom of speech ... and I don't think it serves audiences well.
- Jesse Walker, managing editor, Reason magazine

"Local stations can create their own programs," he said. "They can reorganize their programming so that grant money they might use for membership and programming fees can go elsewhere, and can do private fundraising they need for the dues and programming they need from NPR."

Even some public broadcasting fans say weaning the system off federal money would reap benefits. Jesse Walker of the libertarian magazine Reason says stations pay a price when they take federal money. For one thing there's the perennial threat of government interference.

"I don't think that's good for freedom of speech," he says. "And I don't think it's good for broadcasters who want to do their best, and I don't think it serves audiences well."

Walker says public broadcasting needs to devise a new funding mechanism that will protect its independence, such as a private trust supported by an endowment. It's an idea that gets talked about during each funding crisis.

Grubin, the TV producer, says the real question facing public broadcasting is how to produce the best-quality programs.

"We should look at this budget crisis as an opportunity to ... look at the public television system to see how to use the money most wisely that we have," he says, "rather than to just think of it as, well, who should pay?"

PBS and public radio stations have long been governed by a web of federal regulations. They are barred from running the kinds of advertisements that commercial networks routinely air, for instance. Changing these regulations in any meaningful way won't happen overnight. Still, many people believe public broadcasting would be better off in the long run if it found a new way to support itself and did so in a way that stays true to its missio

Does Raw Video of NPR Exposé Reveal Questionable Editing & Tactics?

The Blaze
by Scott Baker

On Wednesday, The Blaze posted a lengthy report looking at the ethics of undercover journalism. The comments on the post show a lively debate and wide-ranging views on what is considered ethical and acceptable in pursuit of a scoop.

Plenty of readers felt the new NPR exposé justified any ethical misgivings involved in producing it. Others felt that those seeking truths should hold to higher standards.

When undercover video like the NPR story first surfaces, we often look to see if there is raw video of the material used to produce the report as a basis for evaluating the accuracy of the representations made.

And we decided to do that in this case.

The Blaze’s Pam Key, who produces most of our original videos, is experienced in reviewing hours and hours of raw audio/video to find key sections that can then be used in proper context. Her review of the NPR exposé identifies a number of areas to examine.

Do these areas reveal problematic editing choices? Are assertions made in the video misleading? Are the tactics used by the video producers unethical?

Clearly the NPR executives, particularly Ron Schiller, show poor and, at times, despicable judgment. Do any of the revelations from the raw video ameliorate that? Do their wrongdoing justify any wrongdoing by the video producers?

These are sometimes difficult matters to consider, especially for those who are pleased with the outcomes produced by the release of video reports like this; however, the ethical implications can be significant. And as we say around The Blaze watercooler…the truth has no agenda. Perspective and context are essential elements in bringing truth to the forefront. To exclude or alter them can obscure truths rather than reveal them.

We’ll allow you to watch sections of the edited video that has been widely distributed…and then to compare those sections with the raw video that has been laudably released by the video producers.

1. Muslim Brotherhood connections
Much of the consternation over this video centers on the question of why would NPR executives meet with a group connected to Muslim Brotherhood. Did they know? And if Muslim Brotherhood is mentioned, how are the ties characterized? Is the edited video misleading on these points?

In this first section, the narration describes the players and says the NPR executives were preparing to meet with the members of “Muslim Education Action Center.” The narrator then describes the MEAC as a “Muslim Brotherhood front group.” It does not explain how the NPR executives would have a basis to believe they were meeting with a Muslim Brotherhood front group.

The raw video helps us evaluate how the NPR execs might perceive the men. The men describe themselves as board members but indicate that they are at lower levels in the organization…one of them explaining that he is relatively new to the board…the other saying he works in mostly an “observation basis.” You will see that in this clip.

Further, we compare the edited video with the raw video on the important section of how the actors describe the role/connection of the Muslim Brotherhood to their efforts. The edited video includes a reference to some of the original founders of MEAC being members of the Muslim Brotherhood in America. Is this the only reference and basis for the NPR execs to consider MEAC to have a Muslim Brotherhood connection? The raw video also includes a longer section of description that seems to downplay connections of the MEAC group to the Muslim Brotherhood as popularly perceived.

1 Muslim brother low level & Play Down from Naked Emperor News on Vimeo.

2. Does Ron Schiller react to “Sharia” mission statement with amusement?
The narrator notes that the MEAC website includes this phrase: “We must combat intolerance to spread acceptance of Sharia across the world.”

Sharia is defined as “the sacred law of Islam.” But the interpretation of that definition has many variations across many Islamic traditions. That alone would not be a firm clue for the NPR executives of the group’s beliefs.

Of greater concern, though, is how the video is edited at this juncture.

2. Sharia law cut from Naked Emperor News on Vimeo.

So after saying that the MEAC website advocates the “acceptance of Sharia,” the video cuts to the NPR exec saying, “Really? That’s what they said?” The cadence is jovial and upbeat and the narration moves on. The implication is that the NPR exec is aware and perhaps amused or approving of the MEAC mission statement. But when you look at the raw video you realize he was actually recounting an unrelated and innocuous issue about confusion over names in the restaurant reservation.

3. How does Schiller describe Republicans?
Schiller’s negative comments about Republicans and conservatives have gotten a great deal of attention.

He clearly says some offensive things, while being very direct that he is giving his own opinion and not that of NPR. Still — a wildly stupid move!

But you may be surprised to learn, that in the raw video, Schiller also speaks positively about the GOP. He expresses pride in his own Republican heritage and his belief in fiscal conservatism.

3. Praise Republicans from Naked Emperor News on Vimeo.

4. The “seriously racist” Tea Party
NPR exec Ron Schiller does describe Tea Party members as “xenophobic…seriously racist people.”

This is one of the reasons why he no longer has a job!

But the clip in the edited video implies Schiller is giving simply his own analysis of the Tea Party. He does do that in part, but the raw video reveals that he is largely recounting the views expressed to him by two top Republicans, one a former ambassador, who admitted to him that they voted for Obama.

At the end, he signals his agreement. The larger context does not excuse his comments, or his judgment in sharing the account, but would a full context edit have been more fair? See what you think:

5. Are liberals more educated than conservatives?
You may also have seen a section of the video where Schiller describes liberals as more educated than conservatives. But the raw video shows a section where Schiller is hesitant to criticize the education of conservatives and the other executive, Betsy Liley, is outspoken in her defense of the intellects of Fox News viewers.

5. Bashing Rights intellect from Naked Emperor News on Vimeo.

Would it have been fair to include the broader range of the executives statements? The impression of the original video, that the execs were only hostile toward Republicans and conservatives, is incorrect.

6. Does NPR need federal funding?
Let’s look now at one of the other sections most featured in news reports about the original video — the comments about federal funding for NPR.

Schiller says that NPR, “in the long run,” would be better off without federal funding and that most of the stations would survive a loss of such funding. The implication is that Schiller does not believe federal funding for NPR is important. In the raw video, however, Schiller explains the risk to local stations in more detail and why NPR is doing “everything we can to advocate for federal funding.”

6 Fed funding from Naked Emperor News on Vimeo.

7. Audio issue number one
In the release of the raw video, there are two sections where the audio becomes an issue.

In this first clip the video (complete with “timecode” stamp) continues to play while the audio goes into some kind of glitchy loop.

This could be an actual glitch, though not one I’ve seen like this in 25 years of working with video editing.

It could also be a “glitch” edited into a loop to cover a section of the recording on purpose.

In any case here it is:

7. Audio trick 1 from Naked Emperor News on Vimeo.

8. Audio issue number two
The video producers “redacted” a 1:24 section of the audio. They explain that this is for the “safety of a reporter illegally in foreign country.”

The implication from the editing is that Betsy Liley is describing the activities of the reporter in question:

8. audio trick 2 from Naked Emperor News on Vimeo.

The Blaze contacted NPR to see if Liley recalls the nature of her comments here, but thus far they have been unable to accommodate our inquiry.

Anyone looking at the edited version of the Project Veritas video would be concerned about the conduct and views expressed by the NPR representatives. But should we also be concerned about the deceptive nature of some of the video’s representations? Some will say no — the end justifies any means, even if unethical. Others may be bothered by these tactics and view similar projects with a greater degree of skepticism.

In our posting yesterday on the ethics of undercover journalism, we found a range of views. One interesting view is held by Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard. Barnes believes it is always wrong for a journalist to lie: “It‘s dishonest for anyone in journalism to pretend to be someone they’re not.”

But Barnes also believes this applies only to journalists. “This rule doesn’t apply to folks outside the profession,” he told The Blaze. Barnes views the O’Keefe production as a “political hit job and a quite clever and successful one at that.”

Barnes may not realize that O’Keefe describes his work as “investigative journalism,” and thus by Barnes definition — unethical.

And that is only on the issue of going undercover. But even if you are of the opinion, as I am, that undercover reporting is acceptable and ethical in very defined situations, it is another thing to approve of editing tactics that seem designed to intentionally lie or mislead about the material being presented.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Of noble intentions in a cruel world

Daily Kos
by Laurence Lewis

When the Lesser Bush took office in 2001, Republicans rejoiced that "adults" once again would be in charge of foreign policy and national defense. These adults had spent the 1980s arming Saddam Hussein, even as he was gassing his own people. These adults had spent the 1980s arming the Afghan mujahideen, only to abandon them after they had expelled the Soviet Union, refusing to offer the sort of humanitarian aid that could have prevented the embrace of extremism that often comes with poverty and isolation. After returning to power, these adults ignored the screaming warnings before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, allowed the perpetrators of those attacks to get away, then launched two failed wars, including one against the very Saddam they had previously supported, and who was in no way involved in those terrorist attacks. Then even as they waged war on a nation that had never attacked the U.S., had never committed a terrorist attack against the U.S., and had no means of doing so, these adults embraced a Libyan despot who had actually been complicit in a terrorist attack that killed U.S. citizens, and then protected him from lawsuits stemming from that attack. Whatever Republicans mean by being adult, let's hope they don't soon have another opportunity to impose it on anyone else.

We would like to believe our foreign policy at least to some degree is predicated upon noble intentions. With Republicans in office, we know that isn't the case. But with Democrats in office, we hope for something better. We hope at least for some degree of focus on human rights. But realistically, that is rarely the case. President Clinton's military response to Serbia was as gruesome as are all such military responses, but it helped stop genocide. The response might have been better planned and coordinated, but without any response that genocide might have been completed. It took far too long for the European powers to engage, and Russia never was going to approve, but the military strikes on Serbia stopped genocide.

It was not about geopolitical positioning, nor was it an excuse for plundering valuable natural resources. It wasn't even a traditional Western religious crusade, as the perpetrators of the genocide were largely Christian and the victims largely Muslim. But even so, Republicans opposed the effort with the same determination that they supported the disastrous Bush misadventures in the Middle East and Central Asia. But even as the Western powers finally rose to the challenge of stopping the genocide in Europe, they sat idly by while another genocide saw hundreds of thousands of innocents hacked to death with machetes in Rwanda. Noble intentions apparently stopped at certain borders.

To the West, the current revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East are challenging the results of centuries of careful political maneuvering and less careful political thinking. They are undermining assumptions and leaving many of the world's most powerful governments scrambling to figure out what to do. The uprising in Egypt first resulted in tentative Western support for the despotic government, then attempts to massage the revolution in the West's best interests, and only in the end did the aspirations of the protesters seem to gain some level of recognition and primacy. The governments of Bahrain and Yemen have been to some degree amenable to some of the West's less savory military and intel machinations, so the brutal suppression of their revolutionary movements is garnering little more than public scoldings. But Libya's tyrant is no real friend to anyone and was on the verge of engaging in wholesale slaughter, so a violent military response to prevent that slaughter was seemingly easy to justify.

But if human rights and support for democracy and freedom truly were the motivating factors, there is no reason we wouldn't be seeing a consistency of response to all these revolutionary movements, and to all elsewhere in the world. And hardly at all mentioned is that all these movements were inspired by Tunisia, and Tunisia was inspired by the depth of its government's corruption, which only came fully to Tunisian public consciousness with the release of the U.S. embassy cables by WikiLeaks; the release of which has made the founder of WikiLeaks an international outlaw, while the man accused of releasing the information is being subjected to treatment which in itself closes the circle by undermining any U.S. government claims to moral high ground or respect for human rights. Some are claiming we are seeing the birth of an Obama Doctrine: We are not. We are seeing situational responses based not on ideology or idealism, but on good old bad old unenlightened self-interest. Some good may come of it, such as the prevention of a likely bloodbath in Benghazi, but even that remains uncertain, because the strategy and end game remain unclear. The old trusim remains valid, even as it is ignored by a succession of governments from different parties in many nations, including our own: It is much easier to get into a war than to get out of one.

In a better world, there would be widely agreed upon standards and mechanisms defining the international community's responsibilities and governing its responses when nations invade one another, attack one another, or abuse their own citizens and residents. In reality, such an ideal sounds almost laughable and our own nation sells arms to one or both sides of just about every conflict around the globe. We are the world's number one arms merchant and our consumer economy relies upon the exploitation of labor and the environment in other nations to degrees that would be unthinkable at home but for the Republicans, who are so intrepidly attempting to level the field to the lowest common denominator.

Our governments support democratic movements mostly as excuses for geopolitical or economic gain while concurrently protecting and enabling despots who already serve our geopolitical or economic gain. There's nothing new or unique about that. We are not morally exceptional or divinely guided; we are merely very good at what everyone does and what everyone long has done. We are one of the last industrialized nations still to impose capital punishment. We have the world's largest prison population; our social safety net never was on par with those of our industrialized allies and increasingly even that is being shredded to tatters. So let's not kid ourselves about the intentions of our overseas adventures. The good very much is the exception: Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are the rule. But that doesn't mean we cannot dream. It doesn't mean we cannot aspire.

It sometimes seems hopeless. It sometimes seems we activists are helpless against impossible odds. But we cannot afford to be hopeless and we cannot afford to act helpless. To do so would be to concede. And that may at times be the conscious hope of those who would benefit from concession. Recognizing the ugliness of the political dynamics should not be about cynicism or apathy or nihilism. It should be about pragmatism. It should be about recognizing the difficulty of the task.

It is more discouraging to allow oneself to be duped than to be brutally and unwaveringly realistic. But the worst would be to let the facts and the totality of the task kill the best of what lies too often latent within all of us. If no one states and reiterates and aspires to ideals, true hope will indeed be lost. We can praise and support positive efforts by our governments and criticize and agitate against the negative, and always—always—be wary of those in power. But we must claim and cling to our ideals. We must dream of a day when policies will be based on the common good, in respect and awe of our common humanity. We would like to believe our foreign policy at least to some degree is predicated upon noble intentions, but only by continuing to hold all governments accountable will we ever even begin to make that seeming fantasy a reality.

Tracking Our Downward Spiral

The Ways in Which America Still 'Leads' the World
by Richard Clark

According to Yes Magazine, amongst 20 of the world's wealthiest countries, America now has:

* the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;

* the greatest inequality of incomes;

* the smallest amount of government spending (as a percentage of GDP) on social programs for the disadvantaged;

* the lowest number of paid holidays, annual leave days and maternity leave days;

* the lowest score on the UN's index of material well-being of children;

* the worst score on the UN's gender inequality index

* the lowest social mobility (i.e. in America, more members of the lower and middle class remain stuck in that class than ever before);

* the highest public and private expenditure on health care (as a portion of GDP), and yet accompanied by:

- the highest infant mortality rate

- the greatest prevalence of mental health problems

- the highest obesity rate

- the largest percentage of people going without health care due to cost

- the greatest number of low birth weight children per capita

- the greatest consumption of anti-depressants per capita

- the shortest life expectancy at birth (except for Portugal);

- the largest amount of carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita;

- the lowest score on the World Economic Forums Environmental Performance Index and the largest Ecological Footprint per capita (except for Belgium);

- the highest rate of failing to ratify international agreements;

- the lowest amount of spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of GDP;

- the largest amount of military spending as a portion of GDP;

- the largest amount of international arms sales;

- the largest negative balance of payments (except New Zealand, Spain and Portugal);

- the lowest scores for student performance in math (except for Portugal and Italy) (and far down from the top in both science and reading);

- the highest high school drop out rate (except for Spain);

And now, to top it off, America is leading all other industrialized democracies by bringing back debtors' prisons!

Millions of folks around the good ol' USA have been screwed over by predatory lenders and fine-print credit card contracts, and now, partly because of that, many of them are swimming in debt. And now, some of these people are actually being thrown in prison for going into debt. That's right, America in the 21st century is bringing back debtors' prisons! People who can't pay off their credit cards can now be thrown in jail in a third of the states in our nation -- and since the start of 2010, over 5,000 arrest warrants have been issued against people who owe as little as $1,000 to massively profitable corporations like Capital One. (Source: Thom Hartmann's emailed newsletter)

So let me get this straight. A few years after the financial crisis, where massive fraud was perpetrated by Wall Street, not one bankster is in jail, but 5,000 lower- or middle-class Americans, who were screwed over by these banksters, were sent to debtors' prison??!

Republicans have set our country back more than 100 years -- to the 1800's -- when the Robber Barons ruled and our politics were corrupted to the core.

Be proud, Americans. Be very proud.

Gaps in U.S. Radiation Monitoring System Revealed

by Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Parts of America's radiation alert network have been out of order during Japan's nuclear crisis, raising concerns among some lawmakers about whether the system could safeguard the country in a future disaster.

Federal officials say the system of sensors has helped them to validate the impact of nuclear fallout from the overheated Fukushima reactor, and in turn alert local governments and the public. They say no dangerous levels of radiation have reached U.S. shores.

In California, home to two seaside nuclear plants located close to earthquake fault lines, federal authorities said four of the 11 stationary monitors were offline for repairs or maintenance last week. The Environmental Protection Agency said the machines operate outdoors year-round and periodically need maintenance but did not fix them until a few days after low levels of radiation began drifting toward the mainland U.S.

Gaps in the system -- as well as the delays in fixing monitors in some of Southern California's most populated areas -- have helped to prompt hearings and inquiries in Washington and Sacramento.

"Because the monitoring system ... plays such a critical role in protecting the health and safety of the American people, we will examine how well our current monitoring system has performed in the aftermath of the tragic situation in Japan," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee, which plans a hearing in the coming weeks on nuclear safety.

EPA officials said the program effectively safeguarded the country against a threat that did not materialize. They said they put portable monitors in place as backups and repaired the permanent ones in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego last weekend.

"The network as a whole continues to detect even the slightest traces of radiation in the air," the agency said in a statement.

The EPA's independent watchdog, Inspector General Arthur Elkins, told the AP he is considering reviewing the agency's emergency response planning, including the agency's RadNet system.

The network, launched after the Cold War and upgraded following the 9/11 attacks, measures radiation nationwide through dozens of monitors that suck in air samples periodically and pump out real-time readings about radioactive isotopes.

The EPA's data, as well as samples that numerous federal agencies are collecting in Japan, are sent to the Department of Energy's National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center in California. Teams there check it against sophisticated computer models that predict how releases at Fukushima could spread across the Pacific.

To save money, EPA relies in part on trained volunteers to regularly change out air filters on the RadNet monitors and mail them to a federal lab in Alabama, where the data get a detailed analysis a few days later. Volunteers are also tasked with alerting EPA if something goes wrong with the machine.

"It sounds sort of loosey goosey, but we already operate our network on a very rigid schedule so we just sort of fit it into our lifestyle," said Eric Stevenson, who oversees operation of the monitor from his office at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco. "We've been operating this thing for years, and no one has really said boo about it. Something like this comes along and all of us realize 'Hey, gee, that's a relatively smart program.'"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Drowning In Debt

The American Dream

An ancient proverb that is oft-repeated even in our time is that you will always end up reaping what you sow. Well, the U.S. government has been sowing seeds of debt for decades and our politicians have endlessly attempted to assure us that everything is going to be just fine. Well, everything is not going to be just fine. The truth is that the U.S. government is literally drowning in debt. Right now, the total debt of the U.S. government is $14,223,730,274,180.80. It is a debt that is so large that it defies comprehension. It is also a debt that is absolutely impossible to pay off under our current financial system. Someday the weight of this debt will completely collapse our entire economy. The only thing that is keeping that from happening already is our ability to borrow even more money.

For the moment, the U.S. government is still able to borrow gigantic sums of money at extremely low interest rates. That makes it possible for us to be able to rack up amazingly large budget deficits. For example, the Obama administration is projecting that the federal budget deficit for this fiscal year will be an all-time record 1.65 trillion dollars.

All of this borrowing is enabling the U.S. economy to maintain a false level of prosperity at least for now. But we are working with borrowed time. The U.S. government will borrow about 43 percent of what it spends this year. That cannot continue indefinitely.

A small minority of our politicians in Washington D.C. want to get this debt under control, but the truth is that it would not be easy to do even if there was the political will in Washington D.C. to do it. If we wanted to balance the federal budget today we would have to eliminate 43 percent of federal spending.

Doing that would absolutely collapse not only the U.S. economy, but the entire global economy as well.

But if we continue to add to our debt at this pace it will make our eventual collapse much worse.

We really are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Our choices are massive economic pain now or even worse economic pain later.

At this point, it appears completely impossible that we will ever have a balanced budget again under the current system.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is now projecting that mandatory federal spending (mostly for entitlements) will exceed the total of all federal revenues in this fiscal year. Back in 2008, the federal government warned us that this could happen 50 years from now. Instead, it is happening right now.

Do you understand what that means? It means that if we wiped out all discretionary federal spending (including the entire Department of Defense) we would still have a federal budget deficit.

Yes, the U.S. government really is drowning in debt.

Running a 1.65 trillion dollar budget deficit is national financial suicide.

Most Americans cannot even conceive of how much money a trillion dollars is.

If you were alive when Jesus was born and you spent one million dollars every single day since then, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.

That is how hard it is to spend a trillion dollars.

If you went out today and started spending one dollar every single second, it would take you over 31,000 years to spend one trillion dollars.

Unless the United States resorts to some Zimbabwe-style money printing, the truth is that there simply is not enough money in existence to pay off the U.S. national debt even if we wanted to.

If the federal government began right at this moment to repay the U.S. national debt at a rate of one dollar per second, it would take over 440,000 years to pay off the national debt.

Are you starting to get an idea of how much trouble we are in?

Sometimes it is helpful to try to break it down to a more personal level. Have you ever run up a balance on a credit card? It can be a lot of fun to go out and spend all that money, but eventually a day of reckoning comes.

Well, on a national level we have lived the "high life" for decades. It has been a great party. But now that party is coming to an end and a great day of reckoning is fast approaching.

If you divided up the national debt equally among all U.S. households, each one would owe a staggering $125,475.18.

So do you have an extra 125 grand sitting around to pay your share?

Sadly, instead of attempting to grapple with the situation, our politicians have pushed the debt accelerator to the floor.

During Barack Obama's first two years in office, the U.S. government added more to the U.S. national debt than the first 100 U.S. Congresses combined.

Wow. That is quite an "accomplishment".

But haven't people been warning about this for decades?

Yes, they have. The national debt was a huge issue when Ronald Reagan ran for president back in 1980. Back then our politicians were pledging that they would do something about our exploding debt.

Well, that didn't work out too well. The U.S. national debt is now over 14 times larger than it was back in 1980.

But we haven't gone off a cliff yet, have we? Is there a chance that somehow we are going to come out of this okay?

No, there is not. Debt is a very cruel master, and it is only a matter of time before financial disaster strikes.

The following comment was recently posted by a reader named "Bob" on the Economic Collapse website....
The current debt “problem” the US faces kind of reminds me of a similar situation a friend of mine was in back in the mid 1990′s. He had a credit card. He maxed it out. He ordered another credit card from another lender to use it to pay off his maxed out credit card. Then he kept on using the NEW credit card until it too was maxed out. Then he went out and ordered another credit card from another lender and started the process all over again. In the end, when he finally filed for bankruptcy, he had 8 maxed out credit cards @ $40,000 each, a house & car payment and all the other things needed to stay alive. When it was all over he ended up with nothing and was living in a trailer park AFTER his wife divorced him for keeping it all a secret from her. This will NOT end well for the US if it keeps up
The only way that the game can keep going is for the U.S. to be able to borrow the trillions of dollars that it needs each year to roll over existing debt and finance new debt.

However, there are signs that our lending sources are drying up.

Japan is the second largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, but due to the recent disaster in that nation, they will not be buying more of our debt for the foreseeable future. In fact, they will probably be selling off much of the debt that they already hold. Japan currently holds about $882 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds and they are likely going to have to liquidate much of that in order to fund the rebuilding of their nation.

Also, some of the "big boys" in the bond industry are now moving away from U.S. government debt. For example, PIMCO, the biggest bond fund in the entire world, recently acknowledged that they are dumping all of their U.S. Treasuries.

That is not good news for U.S. government finances.

A recent article on Business Insider noted that PIMCO has moved out of U.S. Treasuries very, very quickly....
Investing firm Pimco, the world's biggest bond trader, recently disclosed that its largest mutual fund, the Pimco Total Return Fund, has reduced its holdings of U.S. government securities from 12 percent in January to nothing at all.

Does PIMCO see some trouble on the horizon?


The truth is that anyone with half a brain should be able to see that there is trouble on the horizon for U.S. government finances.

With the U.S. government drowning in so much debt, the only way that the system is going to avoid collapse is for the Federal Reserve to continually print increasingly larger amounts of money and for the U.S. government to continually borrow increasingly larger amounts of money.

PIMCO and others can see the horrible inflation that is on the horizon and they are not going to jump back into U.S. government bonds until interest rates are much, much higher.

But when interest rates on U.S. government debt go higher, that means that interest payments on the national debt will absolutely soar.

What a mess.

There is no way that this thing ends well.

Perhaps that saddest thing of all is what we are doing to our children and our grandchildren.

We are saddling them with the biggest debt in the history of the world and we are completely destroying their economic future.

Is that not a crime?

If you were in their position, how would you feel about what this current generation is doing to them?

We were the wealthiest, most prosperous nation on the planet. We didn't have to go into debt. We didn't have to mortgage the future for the sake of the present.

But that is what we did. Now we are absolutely drowning in debt.

We are trapped in a debt black hole that is going to swallow up all of the wealth and prosperity that previous generations handed down to us.

Shame on you America. Things did not have to turn out this way.